The PlayStation 4 (PS4) will arrive in Japan on February 14th. Wait…. what? Sony is releasing its flagship product on its home turf three months after it launched abroad? That can’t be true! But it is.
I remember the PlayStation 3 (PS3) release from 2006 very well; I sat in front of a computer in a dusty dorm watching videos of that shiny black, Spiderman-fonted tease being unboxed, all the while knowing I had a three month wait until I got mine. Because I was neither Japanese nor American (I was in the UK), I had to wait my turn like the rest of Europe. It was not a good feeling and it’s a tragedy that Japan is suffering it today.
On the PS3’s Japanese launch day, over 80,000 consoles were sold in 24 hours. People queued around the clock and their enthusiasm was through the roof. At that time, I remember feeling bitter toward American gamers who received their consoles only a week after Japan, but I certainly didn’t doubt Japan’s right to be first in line; this was a product from their country, the fruit of Japanese labour, and it was only fair that they got first dibs.
There could not be a bigger shift: from 24-hour lines in 2006 to 3 month delays in 2013. So, what has changed? Why would Sony make such an obviously antagonistic decision? Masayasu Ito answered these questions in a round table discussion at the Tokyo Game Show: he stated that “Japan is completely different. It’s more portable-heavy…[Japanese] publishers are showing an interest. But it’s a completely different picture of readiness compared to Western publishers.”
It’s simple, really; Sony no longer has the developers’ full support, so games are just not available on the PS4. It remains to be seen how Japanese consumers will react to this, but one thing is sure: no matter what spin we put on it, the Playstation brand is no longer the apple of Japan’s eye.
As Masayasu stated, Japanese gamers have begun to break away from traditional consoles and move more toward the portable market. With more customers choosing the Nintendo 3DS, the PlayStation Portable and PlayStation VITA, Android and iOS devices, the developers have followed suit. Traditional JRPG names like Final Fantasy, Shin Megami Tensei, Suikoden and Persona are all being released with much greater frequency on handhelds and Persona 5, one of the most influential JRPGs was recently announced for the PS3 rather than PS4. These games have much bigger followings in Japan compared to Western countries and their departure from traditional consoles will hit Sony hard.
So what does this mean to those of us who appreciate the uniquely Asian flavor of our games and purchased PlayStation 4 consoles in the hope of seeing more of it?
Honestly I don’t know. Sony has yet to announce a full Japanese launch line up, though we know that launch date coincides with the release of several Japan-focused games such as Natural Doctrine, Yakuza: Ishin and Strider Hiryu. While this is an obvious attempt to get Japan’s gamers back on the home team, victory is not certain. If these offerings fail to entice we could see the PS4 losing its ability and motivation to attract Japanese gamers and that would be a disaster for us all.
Because if the PS4 loses its connection to its homeland, it would become a console in exile: a console which has lost the charm which sets it apart from other home consoles out there on the market. When all is said and done, a PS4 without the Japanese influence is just Xbox One by another name.
UPDATE 4-12-13: Spelling correction.